Merry-go-rounds and lightning bugs. Go-carts and BB guns. Denim shorts and ponytails. Summer in southern West Virginia is more than a season, it’s an event. It’s about soaking up the sun and living life full blast. It is a time to enjoy every rainbow, raindrop and blue sky.
It is the best time, the best place, to be a child.
By late May or early June the shoes would be lost. Comfy flip-flops and sneakers would be lined up near the front and back doors, but I couldn’t waste the time to slip them on my feet.
Summer beckoned. And, as a child, I would race out the door barefoot, ready to play and explore.
The feel of grass under my toes was natural. I did not realize I was a walking, running, cartwheeling Appalachian stereotype. But as a youngster I did not care. It was summer — and summer was not a time for shoes.
Each day, Mom would attempt to get a brush through my hair and pull it up into a ponytail before I raced out the door. Her success rate was 50-50. I was quick as a child. Meanwhile, my grandmother would start her annual worry that I would be bitten by a snake. Hopping along rock walls and through forest litter, I would laugh at Grandma’s dire warnings.
In retrospect, I’m surprised I wasn’t nipped by a copperhead. Perhaps Granny’s prayers were answered.
My father would encourage the rambunctiousness of youth. Go-carts, bikes, BB guns and slingshots were mainstays.
How many afternoons were spent barreling down the driveway in the go-cart at full speed, then hitting the bank at 90 degrees to make the turn to head back home. Sure, there were spills, cuts, bruises and maybe a head laceration or two, but nothing that couldn’t be patched up with a few Band-Aids or stitches.
The scars were a badge of honor. A story to share when school resumed in the fall.
My favorite time of day was dusk. Freshly scrubbed from top to bottom, I would go back outside after dinner with a full belly and clean feet.
I loved the feel of the dew as it began to settle on the blades of grass, and the sight of the lightning bugs as they made their way into the night sky.
Nestled on one of the porches, with a couple of dogs and cats cuddled close, I would breath in the fragrance of the coming night while waiting for the first glimpse of the Big and Little Dippers. I never thought of going inside to play. The great outdoors was where the story of our seasons unfolded.
It couldn’t have been easy taking five kids to carnivals and amusement parks, yet Mom did it. As my older siblings would enjoy the thrill of Tilt-A-Whirls and other grown-up rides, Mom would patiently stand by my side as I rode a pony on the Merry-go-round.
Dressed in our bright Brady Bunch ensembles, we would hit fun houses and Ferris wheels, and ride bumper cars. Carefully counting our tickets, we would budget our rides to make the most of our day.
After the initial excitement of the rides dimmed, we would hit the food stands and games. We ate corn dogs, cotton candy and popcorn until our stomachs were queasy, then lost money trying to win stuffed animals that could have more easily been purchased at the local Hills department store.
With competitiveness a genetic trait in our family, it wasn’t about the prize. It was about winning. A task not so easy at carnival games.
Today I tweet about important and not-so-important events to friends and followers in West Virginia, Virginia and across the United States. Be it a breaking news story or the blooming of a snowball bush, in an instant I can transmit a comment, link or photo to friends near and far.
Back in the day it wasn’t so quick and easy. Friends communicated via land lines or face to face. Or by showing up at one’s house on horseback. Those were my favorite days — ones spent with friends Lisa and Shelle riding country trails. Sometimes wearing shoes. Sometimes not.
There’s a moment — a day within a year within a decade — when one grows up. Suddenly, there are no loving parents and grandparents to warn of snakes and thorns and nails in bare feet. There are no exciting afternoons spent at carnivals, no lazy Sundays on horseback.
There are plenty of bills, job duties, laundry and a plethora of household chores. It’s not the Merry-go-round, but it can certainly feel like you’re spinning in circles.
The bliss of childhood is a dim memory, like the feel of the dew on bare feet.
It’s late May. A load of laundry awaits in the dryer while a stack of month-end mileage reports are on the kitchen table ready to be calculated. Duty calls, but instead of answering I opt to walk out the back door.
Sporting denim shorts and a ponytail, the concrete is cool against my bare feet. I take a seat on the stoop, cuddle my dogs close and look up at the sky. The Dippers aren’t visible on this cloudy night, but soon they will be. As will the lightning bugs and other signs of summer.
It’s a season of change in southern West Virginia. The best time, the best place, to be a child — and an adult.
Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.